60 years onward

Vivarium

An Eternal Return

by Chloé Cavillier

Vivarium is the second feature by Irish director Lorcan Finnegan. The film was selected for the 58th edition of La Semaine de la Critique in 2019. 

Just like the fledglings’ tragic destiny at the beginning of the film, the young couple in Vivarium is caught in a hellish situation upon visiting a house in suburbia. The soundtrack, a nightmarish lullaby that echoes their painful disillusionment, crushes any hope they have for a comfortable, sheltered life. The symmetrically laid-out estate agency, with its two rows of identical houses facing each other and its agent’s oddly rigid smirk, forewarns the audience of the eerie perfection of the housing estate. Upon exploring the residential area, Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) discover a deserted, unsettling, spotless place with its artificial light, computer-generated clouds, soundless streets and tasteless food. They attempt to escape as their mysterious host departs, but only to end up going round in circles within a humongous maze, repeatedly finding themselves in front of the same house. This circular pattern that runs through the film resembles an infernal cycle where every day is the same and every word is repeated for ever more. The picture of the house that endlessly repeats itself within itself, even within the picture hanging from the living-room wall, pushes the couple off the edge from a mind-bending height.

The protagonists find themselves trapped in an enclosed microcosm, a vivarium whose stifling nature is strengthened by the mysterious appearance of a baby who, like a vampire, will suck their very lifeforce. On that note, I must congratulate both actors’ performances as they swiftly switch from an average thirty-year-old to, pretty much, the living dead. If this duo starts as a seemingly united front against that unbearable brat through reverse shots that separate them from him, the child also appears at the center of the frame where he establishes a barrier between the two adults.

A transition confirms that distance between them: Gemma, moved by her “maternal instinct” falls asleep at the boy’s side and the next shot shows us Tom sleeping in the hole that he digs day after day, after day. Unlike her, he refuses to take care of the child that he sees as nothing but a monster, – a John-Carpenter sort of a “thing” (“It, not him,” he says, correcting his significant other). This gender divide (she lives outside, he lives outside) then appears like a second prison that will bring about their downfall. When the woman and the child grow apart as the latter reaches adulthood, and the couple reunites in an ultimate nostalgic flicker, it’s already too late: life flashes before their eyes, senseless, and no one can turn back the hands of time. Vivarium closes on this cruel fact of life; a fiercely efficient, uncompromising exploration of the dark side of conformity.

At La Semaine de La Critique

Vivarium

2019

Feature Film

See movie
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